Top Tips for IELTS

A way to help students write paragraphs in task 1

This IELTS teaching idea comes from my lesson on dealing with two pie charts. It is a very simple idea! All it really entails is not presenting students with complete task 1 questions. Rather when you have a question with two charts, you give them one chart at a time.

The main focus is to encourage students to write paragraphs in task 1 – something that is very often ignored. It can also work as a means of focussing on change and comparison language.

I should add that while this idea could be used to write a complete task 1 summary, it concentrates mainly on writing different paragraphs.

Preview of the task – download below

You’ll see that I have added options here – partly to make it more interesting. There is one “first chart” and three different “second charts”. You should see instantly that these different charts should get different results.

These different charts could be used in larger classes to create some form of information gap activity or just to give more or differentiated practice.

Chart 1

1976 canada

Chart 2 – still Canada but different time in the past

canada 2014

Chart 2 – UK in 1976

uk 1976

Chart 2 – Canada in 2020

canada 2020


Why I think it’s good idea


If you have a task with two charts/graphs the natural thing is to use a separate paragraph for each chart/graph. It’s also the simple thing too and simple tends to work in 20 minutes! Speaking as a teacher – if your candidates have only one chart at a time then they have to write paragraphs!

Reaching 150 words

Many candidates struggle to get to 150 words. This may help. It breaks the task down into mini-tasks of 30 words and 60 words and 80 words. Much more manageable.

Focussing on comparisons/changes in the second paragraph

The first chart is the easier one to write about. It is a simple summary/description task. There is nothing to compare with or change.

The second chart presents more problems. Now the task is to summarise and compare/identify changes. That’s twice as much. It can help to have done the easier task first and then to focus on the more complex change language later.

How it can work

This is simply my description of how I might work this. This will vary from context to context. The emphasis is on taking an ordered approach before writing.

First chart

This chart looks nice and simple no? That’s the idea! Also part of the idea is to take a stepped approach. Initially looking at the chart and understanding it. Only then thinking about how to write about it.

If what follows looks over-complex, I have a simpler version in my student lesson where the idea is just to ask yourself a series of questions

student version

Step 1 – looking at the chart

What is the chart about? Can you summarise it in your own words?

What time does it show? Why is that important?

What type of language do you need? (numbers and percentages etc)

How many categories are there? Can you say what they re in your own words?

Step 2 – thinking about the task

Remember the task.

What are the main points you need to include?

Are you going to include all the detail?

Can you group some of the detail together? ( are some of the numbers similar? are some of the categories similar)

How are you going to organise your summary? (main points first and from big to little)

Step 3 – write

Write a short paragraph.

This is key for me. If you take the emphasis away from reaching a word count, then you have a better chance of getting a summary (they tend to be short!). Also by making it a paragraph task, you almost immediately get into organised writing.

1976 canada

Second chart(s)

This could take you into homework!

The idea is that when you get to the second chart much of the language is already there from the first chart. In that sense the writing is easier.

As mentioned above though, this second chart requires more analysis as thinking about the change in time/place requires comparison/change language.

Again, I’d personally take a stepped approach here – though not perhaps going through all the steps in the first chart – you already have that as a model.

Step 1 – Look at the chart – what is different?

Look at the heading – time/place

What language is needed? – comparison/change

Step 2 – What details to include

What are the biggest/most important changes/comparisons? How can you make those clear?

Think about how you order information. Can you follow the structure of the first paragraph?

What different change/comparison language can you use?

Step 3 – write a paragraph

The focus is again on an ordered paragraph. This time the difference is that comparison and change language is included.


One limitation of this exercise is that IELTS doesn’t always throw out two very similar looking charts. Frequently, the second chart will be different in kind and contain different information. Looking at two different charts is a separate skill that needs to be dealt with separately.

A second limitation is that by the time of the test itself the candidates need to consider two charts simultaneously and write a summary statement – something ignored here. I’d simply argue that looking at charts separately is a useful step towards that end.

The download

Pie charts - families in Canada (662)

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2 Responses to A way to help students write paragraphs in task 1

  1. ajanta deb September 4, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

    it was indeed a very helpful resource. thank you very much for your report writing technique.


  1. A way to help students write paragraphs in task 1 - IELTS TEST - how to prepare?IELTS TEST – how to prepare? - September 4, 2016

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